More and more and more research shows that having more women in leadership roles has a positive impact on your bottom line. Boston Consulting Group showed similar impacts from other types of diversity – ethnicity, career background, and education.
While it was once considered a ‘nice to have’, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are now a strategic imperative for companies that want top tier performance.
How companies make those strategic commitments to DEI – and whether it’s lip service or truly embraced – has a material impact on innovation, performance, retention, and attraction of top talent.
How to start strategic commitments
Ultimately, organizational change needs to be led from the top. Whether it’s at the board, shareholder, or C-suite level, formalizing an organization’s ambition to build and maintain a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization through strategic commitments can be one of the most important drivers of positive change.
Some commitments we see Endorsed Employers making that have a positive impact are:
- Quotas and targets, most commonly around gender but targets could be used for any underrepresented groups
- Pay gap analysis, and then addressing any discrepancies
- Being targeted with policies that properly support the workforce
- Ensuring your culture reflects your policies, increasing authenticity and trust
- Using employee engagement surveys and asking employees what would increase inclusion, as each workforce is different.
What we do know, is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, companies need to consider their specific workforce and goals in order to focus on the areas that have the biggest impact. Having said that, we’ve shared some key areas of consideration below.
Commitments to diversity underpin performance
Organizations making a strategic commitment to DEI, understand that it underpins performance and innovation. Without valuing diversity and putting inclusive work practices into place, there cannot be an impactful strategic commitment to DEI – they go absolutely hand in hand.
Rae van Wyk, Acting Manager of Organizational Development at Powerlink shares how behaviors underpin their strategic commitment.
“To experience the benefits of an inclusive culture and deliver on our Purpose, we need a diverse and inclusive workplace where people feel safe to speak up and bring their whole selves to work. It is only through inclusion that we can make the most out of the rich diversity at Powerlink.”
Thoughtworks have also clearly identified the benefits, with Employer brand manager / DEI Lead Fiona Byarugaba (she/her), sharing;
“Diversity, especially at more senior levels, has a significant positive impact on our business and culture.”
Targets: to have or not to have
Targets can be a bit of a contentious topic. Those who oppose them often cite a desire to hire the best person for the job, and fears that targets negatively impact meritocracies. But what we now know, is that unconscious bias affects all our decision-making, and there is no true meritocracy without systemically and deliberately challenging bias.
Targets have been shown to impact behavior and change gender ratios in companies that hold them. In fact, institutional investors are now so firmly in support of targets for women in leadership that 40:40 Vision (an initiative to ensure diversity in executive leadership in ASX300 companies) now has $4.6 trillion in investor backing. There are 20 investors on board the initiative, encouraging ASX300 companies to commit to targets of 40:40:20.
Examples of gender targets
Our Endorsed Employer Crown Resorts also has a 40:40:20 commitment. That means 40% women, 40% men, and 20% of any gender, across their leadership. This target is driving specific activities to ensure they reach the target. Michelle Carr (she/her) GM for Talent Acquisition, shares that the number of women is lower in more senior levels, so the target applies to each level of the organization.
“In setting this target, consideration was given to the current gender representation at Crown and what would be a realistic target that factors in future appointments, promotion opportunities, and retention rates. This target allows under-represented and over-represented areas to progress towards a greater balance under more than one combination, not just a static target. For example, a 40:40:20 target could be achieved by six men and four women, six women and four men, or five and five. To achieve this, we will aim to progressively increase female participation at each level, attract more female talent, build our internal pipeline, and promote our high-performing, high-potential women.”
To move them towards their target, Crown has custom-built an interactive real-time reporting dashboard dedicated to gender equity.
“This dashboard shows current and rolling data by gender on areas of promotion, flexible work arrangements, and parental leave to name a few areas. The rate at which women progress through the company is also being tracked to measure our progress towards 40:40:20.”
Powerlink also understand the value of diversity targets, and have a range in place, for both women in leadership positions and development opportunities for women. Emily O’Brien (she/her), Organizational Development Consultant shares,
“We have seen a drastic improvement in achieving our targets when the deliberate focus is applied, particularly throughout each stage of the recruitment process.”
They have been purposeful in sourcing (such as becoming a WORK180 Endorsed Employer) and have clear expectations around gender-balanced shortlists.
“Our recent senior leader recruitment campaign integrated diversity into each step of the process and challenged the hiring mindset to achieve a gender-balanced result. Having targets in mind helped to challenge the thinking of everyone involved in the campaigns and generated some great conversations and learnings which are being applied across Powerlink’s broader talent attraction activities.”
Similar to Crown Resorts, Thoughtworks have a target of 40% women and underrepresented gender minorities in tech roles by the end of 2022 – and they are already at 38.3%. Fiona Byarugaba (she/her) Employer brand manager / DEI Lead, shares;
“Clear targets keep our leadership team and DEI council accountable, and they force us to look for talent where we may not have looked before. In Australia, we have proudly achieved 50% WUGM (women and underrepresented gender minorities) across our business, and we have also achieved our 2022 target to have 50% (+/-3%) WUGM across tech roles.
“These targets translate into being very intentional about who we bring on board when we hire, and just as importantly, ensure we can help those people advance their career paths once they come on board.”
Examples of other strategic commitments that work
When it comes to DEI, there is no one-size fits all. Solutions you implement need to reflect your workforce, their needs and your business model. The good news is that research from Regnan shows that inclusion is the critical ingredient. Leadership behaviours, and the culture embedded in the organization, have the greatest impact on the success of diversity programs.
Showing their commitment to taking targeted action that meets their employers’ needs, Powerlink have recently engaged an external specialist in diversity and cultural change to review current and past activities, identify barriers, and provide a clear direction to accelerate broader diversity and inclusion progress. They listened to their employees lived experiences to determine four strategic areas of focus:
- Amplify their work towards an inclusive culture
- Strengthen leadership capability
- Continue to hardwire diversity into HR practices, and
- Maintain their focus on gender equality through targeted actions.
Thoughtworks have recently updated their Growing Your Family Policy, recognizing that not all families look the same and the requirements have changed. They allow international remote work for people to travel and work at the same time, and are investing in their future leaders through their new RISE leadership program. In the first cohort, 10 out of the 15 participants were women or underrepresented gender minorities.
Knowing that DEI support innovation, Thoughtworks have also created a three-month, paid scholarship that allows Thoughtworkers to build, test, and launch new ideas and innovations into the market.
Making their workplace flexible and responsive has been key to attracting and retaining a truly diverse workforce at Thoughtworks– an insight that some companies aren’t recognizing as they force everyone back to the office full time.
The Great Resignation is showing that people are leaving workplaces that don’t support flexible work, leaving the best candidates available for companies like Thoughtworks to snap up!
At Crown Resorts they have key commitments in areas such as cultural change and communication, as well as the retention and development of existing staff – all viewed through an intersectional lens. Similar to gender ratio targets, they have clear metrics in place to track progress.
Crown Resorts also launched an innovative shift-swapping app, enabling employees to give away unwanted shifts, pick up shifts from the ‘pool’ of shifts which have been given away and pick up shifts which have been assigned specifically to them by another employee.
The feature improves work flexibility and over 10,000 shift swaps occur per month with the gender split of take up at 54% male and 46% female.
Top tip: Listening to your employees is key
Although cultural change needs to be led from the top and requires executive buy-in to be successful, beware the model of senior employees making decisions from their ivory tower without understanding the true needs of their workforce.
True inclusivity requires you to actually listen to people – it’s the only way you can ensure solutions you put in place address the real-life problems people in your business have.
Emily O’Brien (she/her), Organizational Development Consultant at Powerlink shared,
“Our future success in becoming world-class is driven by each of our employees, and that’s why learning more about our employee’s experiences working at Powerlink is so important.”
They run annual employee engagement surveys, with an 81% response for their most recent survey and an increase in the engagement score.
“[It shows] they are personally invested in developing a better workplace. Our results mean we are definitely on the right track, but also show that we can’t rest on our laurels if we want to keep improving.”
Thoughtworks also run an annual engagement survey and are proud of their increase in employees’ sense of belonging, as that was a specific gap they set out to address.
Fiona Byarugaba (she/her) Employer brand manager / DEI Lead explained;
“It was positive to see the direct impact some of our strategic initiatives had on our recent survey results. We saw significant improvements in areas where we as a company came together to openly discuss ways to continue to make Thoughtworks a great place to work.”
Strategic commitments are an investment
A final word on the importance of investing in DEI initiatives came from Fiona Byarugaba (she/her) Employer brand manager / DEI Lead at Thoughtworks. She shared;
“When considering a new employee benefit or initiative, it can be easy to just focus on the pure cost of implementation and the administration of putting one in place. However, generally, these sorts of changes fall into a couple of different categories – retention value, employer brand value, and the cost of doing nothing. In the current labor market where employees have so much choice, it’s important to make sure you have competitive benefits and policies.”